Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Challenging North Coast of Hiva Oa

Mark and I can only sit so long in a pretty and comfortable anchorage, like Hanamoenoa Bay in Tahuata. At one point or another – if not chased off by the weather – it is time to explore new territories; in this case the challenging north coast of Hiva Oa. Despite the valid warnings of our friends on SV Iona, who had a dangerous experience with heavy onshore winds in Hanamenu Bay, we were willing to give it a try. The weather predictions were as benign as they could be: 10 knots of wind from the ESE and little swell.

Calm conditions heading into Hanamenu Bay

We took everything we heard and read about this uncomfortable coast into account and left Tahuata first thing in the morning, being able to sail, gloriously cutting across the channel between the islands. After an hour, when we reached the west side of Hiva Oa, the wind dropped completely – that’s how calm conditions were – and we had to motor the rest of the way, some five miles or so. It was a bit choppy around the corner, but nothing like what Iona had to deal with, which meant we had “made it in time”. Once settled in Hanamenu Bay around 9:30am, the water was flat and no wind was present. What was all the fuss about?

Hanamenu Bay with onshore winds

Realizing that things could change on a whim, I wanted to go to shore as quickly as possible to see what the place had to offer, before we would get stuck on the boat. Mark opted to wait until 11am, to see what the weather had to offer. 11am is the time when the land has heated up and sucks the wind in, at least that’s the case in San Francisco, which guarantees the magnificent sailing in the bay. We didn’t have to wait that long. At 10:30am, someone flipped a switch and the wind started blowing from the ocean. We were on a lee shore (no sailor’s favorite), the waves started building and white caps appeared. We had lost our chance to safely land the dinghy ashore and all there was to do was wait. Wait to see whether conditions would deteriorate and become scary or improved and calmed down.

We were lucky and the onshore breeze never exceeded 20 knots, meaning wind chop of about a foot or so. Around 2:30pm, I became antsy. The sun was already getting low near the tops of the mountains and conditions remained pretty much the same, which seemed doable to go ashore. Mark gave in and a bit later we found ourselves jumping out of the dinghy in the shallows and pulling it as quickly as possible onto the black sand beach, without anything or anybody getting drowned. That wasn’t too bad!

The small settlement of Hanamenu

This out-of-the-way place – only reachable by boat or foot - was used by locals to train horses and to “vacation”. Well lubricated with bug repellent, we walked past a few wooden houses and explored some of the dirt paths amongst brush, plants and (empty) mango trees, before taking a bath in the cool waters of a waist deep pool, created by a small waterfall. Its setting was very tropical and tranquil; the guidebooks called it “Hollywood Pool”. When we arrived back at our dinghy, the wind had been turned off. This meant a dry ride back to Irie and no more worries. The land had cooled off enough and we shouldn’t be in a hurry to leave the next morning. The left over swell did not keep us awake, but the creaking engine boards did.

Hollywood Pool

“Get up! We have to leave! The wind is already picking up and there are white caps outside of the bay,” Mark shouted at 7am the following morning. Impossible! This was too early… Then, I noticed the rain squalls around us and realized what was up. The expected flat ride to the next bay east would not be so flat! For almost three hours, Irie banged into the wind and seas to cover the 9 miles to Hanaiapa Bay, the best anchorage in this area, according to the cruising guides. Sailing would take all day, against an increasing eastern wind following the coastline and accelerated by the capes.

Crappy 3 hour trip to Hanaiapa

Anchoring in Hanaiapa took three tries. The trick is to stay above 40 feet (anchor in 45-50ft) or your chain is on rocks and can (will!) get wrapped or stuck. From the moment we arrived until the moment we left, Irie did not stop moving and we barely slept. There was no wind to speak of – when there was a breeze, it was, again, onshore – but a swell permanently rolled into the bay. Laying sideways to the swell was especially bouncy. It was doable and we were glad to be on a catamaran, but, as far as we are concerned, the only reason to spend time in places like this is to see amazing things, which we didn’t. Sure, the bay was pretty, the town enchanting and the people friendly, but you find that elsewhere, without “suffering” through being anchored there.

Where do you leave the dinghy to go ashore?

On the day we arrived, we managed to put our dinghy at a crappy concrete dock, with a stern anchor caught on a rocky sea bottom and a line to shore determined to chafe through over time. (Why don’t they make these places more convenient for boats? The locals are dropped off in the shallow water and have to wade ashore, because the dock is too dangerous.) We had a pleasant walk through the village consisting of two parallel streets surrounded by tropical plants, beautiful flowers and an abundance of fruit trees. Charles, a local guy living next to the church, invited us in for coffee and gave us a bunch of bananas. Amongst the boulders along the bay, we found a spot of beach, which looked suitable to leave the dinghy for a longer period of time. Goats bleated in the hills and greeted us back at the dock. It was all very nice, until we had to return to the bouncy boat.

Main street in Hanaiapa, a small, well-kept village of 100 people

The following day, we planned a big adventure. We would go ashore around 7am and try to hitch a ride to Paumau, 2 hours east, and visit this amazing archeological site with the biggest tiki in the world. We had packed a bag and anticipated a welcome break off the boat, hoping to somehow hitch back before dark. (We had only seen a couple of cars the previous day.) We motored the dinghy to our new found beach, only to notice that it was very low tide and that the access to this small stretch of sand was blocked by massive rocks. Now what? With nowhere else to land the dinghy, we headed back to the concrete rope chafing “wharf”. The walls were too high and too slippery this time of the day (and there was nothing to hold onto while attempting to climb on), so we had to abort our mission and exciting prospects. Instead, we stayed on board and bounced around a bit more, until leaving for Ua Huka, 54 miles to the northwest. This interesting island – with three tricky anchorages along the south shore - is also little visited…

Hanaiapa church

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